Sep 112012

Hells is a damn good-looking anime and has a sense of humor– the sort of things that’ll make an anime worth watching but not necessarily memorable or whatever. That shit isn’t really worth talking about. Just go watch the damn thing and take all that in.

What makes Hells stand out is its particularly fucked up theology.

Here’s the gist of it:

Cain murders Abel. The story’s right out of Genesis. No real twists there. So Abel is the first person in existence to die, and he’s filled with immense resentment. Why did he have to die? Why couldn’t he get to enjoy life and all its pleasures before being prematurely snuffed out. Abel thinks he’s gotten a bum rap, and he decides to take it out on the rest of reality.

Being the first dude to die, Abel pretty much gets dibs on the afterlife. He goes about molding it into a place where he can punish the rest of reality for the sins put upon him by Cain. Once Cain dies, he apparently kicks Abel’s ass again and seals away his angst for the betterment of mankind. With that done, Cain decides to bring some order to the afterlife and fashions it into a school for whatever reason. That really isn’t important.

The main idea here is how what lies beyond death isn’t predetermined. God just made Adam and Eve and let things play out after that. He didn’t create Heaven or Hell, and he didn’t give life a purpose beyond existing. He’s pretty much the God as conceived by Deism– never interfering and letting shit run its course. What meaning and purpose you derive– including the afterlife– comes from the will of humanity.

The catch being that Abel got first shot at molding said will. He’s the reason why Hell even exists in the minds of humanity. He wanted to redirect our souls into his grasp, so that he could hatch his master plan: erasing all souls from existence.

Everything in this anime comes down to that classic anime concept of “You can do anything if you just believe!” It’s the power that every young, plucky hero and heroine draws upon, and it’s that power which allows them to carve their own fate.

But most anime never takes that thought process to its natural conclusion: Why is it that only the hero’s will matters? He isn’t the only character who has wants and desires, so why is it that only his wishes come true? Even a villain wishes for their nefarious plans to succeed, so there’s no real reason why the hero has the strongest will? If anything, his lack of experience in life should mean he hasn’t developed said willpower to the extent of those villains who usually have more experience in the world.

That’s where Abel comes into play. As the movie drags on, the characters become quite aware of the power of human will, and they use it to the best of their abilities. But no matter how close they get, they always fail because Abel’s will is stronger. His nigh-eternal despair is stronger than the collective will of those souls he wishes to vanquish.

All of this changes with the main chick does her thing. Turns out she’s the reincarnation of Abel’s mother: Eve. Only her will exceeds that of Abel’s, and through her example and the sacrifice or another character are the souls of Hell able to free themselves from Abel’s tyranny.

On the surface this appears to be a triumph of the human will. Try hard enough and blahblahblah. But that ain’t the case. Had it not been for the appearance of a soul older and more experienced than his, Abel would have succeeded. No amount of wishing from the masses would have trumped Abel. It took the equivalent of divine intervention for everyone’s souls to be saved.

It’s a pretty messed up conclusion when you actually look at it. If not for a benevolent will triumphing over a diabolical one, the souls of every living being would eventually be cast into the abyss. One could look at this in two ways:

  • 1) This is a very theistic ending. One should take stock in their faith in a higher power, since only that power’s grace allows for salvation.
  • 2) The world is a fucked up place where the whims of the mightiest determine your ultimate fate.

You’re left with either a determinist conclusion or a an absurdist ending. My own bias leans towards the latter rather than the former, but both seem to be pretty reasonable conclusions. What this thing isn’t is your typical “anyone can win if they just believe with their heart” anime. If anything, Hells spits in the eye of that attitude, since it shows time and again that very few individuals are capable of crafting reality in their own image, even on the smallest of levels. It ultimately has a pretty negative view of humans, labeling us as self-defeating even when we’re at our best.

I gotta admire that pessimism.

Also: The witch’s name is Kiki. Even Miyazaki’s characters go to Hell. That’s a pretty damning view of the world.

Also Also: The Frankenstein girl is a pretty obvious Jesus analogue. Sacrifices herself to literally destroy the Seven Deadly Sins and allow for the salvation of the damned. FrankenJesus is quite moe.

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